Demo­crat lead­ers say they now see ‘re­sults’ in Iraq war

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By S.A. Miller

Top Se­nate Democrats have started to ac­knowl­edge progress in Iraq, with the chair­man of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee say­ing Aug. 20 that the U.S. troop surge is pro­duc­ing “mea­sur­able re­sults.”

Sen. Carl Levin of Michi­gan high­lighted im­proved se­cu­rity in Bagh­dad and al Qaeda losses in An­bar prov­ince as ex­am­ples of suc­cess — a shift for Democrats who have mainly dis­counted or ig­nored ad­vances on the bat­tle­field for weeks.

“The mil­i­tary as­pects of Pres­i­dent Bush’s new strat­egy in Iraq [. . . ] ap­pear to have pro­duced some cred­i­ble and pos­i­tive re­sults,” Mr. Levin said in a joint state­ment with Sen. John W. Warner, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, af­ter a two-day visit to Iraq.

Mr. Levin joins a grow­ing cho­rus of Democrats — in­clud­ing 2008 pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton of New York and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illi­nois — who say the troop surge has pro­duced ben­e­fits, but who also be­moan fail­ures of the fledg­ling Iraqi gov­ern­ment they have re­peat­edly crit­i­cized for tak­ing an Au­gust vacation.

The Democrats’ re­fram­ing of the war de­bate helps them avoid crit­i­cism for naysay­ing U.S. mil­i­tary achieve­ments while still ad­vo­cat­ing a speedy pull­out from what they say is a civil war the Iraqi gov­ern­ment can­not quell.

“It’s work­ing,” Mrs. Clin­ton said of the troop surge Aug. 20 in a speech at the Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars na­tional con­ven­tion in Kansas City, Mo., a group at odds with her votes for a pull­out and against emer­gency troop fund­ing.

But Mrs. Clin­ton told the roughly 5,000 vet­er­ans that the new strat­egy came “too late” in the four-year-old war and it is time to bring U.S. troops home.

“I do not think the Iraqis are ready to do what they have to do for them­selves yet,” she said. “I think it is un­ac­cept­able for our troops to be caught in the cross­fire of a sec­tar­ian civil war while the Iraqi gov­ern­ment is on vacation.”

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion said Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki and other Iraqi lead­ers are meet­ing — de­spite the par­lia­ment’s re­cess — in pur­suit of po­lit­i­cal ac­com­mo­da­tions ac­cept­able to the Kurds, the rul­ing Shi’ites, the ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion and the Sun­nis who were dis­placed from power in the over­throw of Sad­dam Hus­sein.

“We be­lieve that Prime Min­is­ter Ma­liki and the Pres­i­dency Coun­cil will be able to get this im­por­tant work done, work that is be­ing done on the lo­cal level where we see bot­tom-up rec­on­cil­i­a­tion tak­ing hold,” said Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil spokesman Gor­don John­droe.

The White House since July has high­lighted gains ahead of a Sept. 15 progress re­port to Congress from Army Gen. David H. Pe­traeus, U.S. com­man­der in Iraq. In his weekly ra­dio ad­dress on Aug. 18, Mr. Bush pre­dicted po­lit­i­cal progress at the lo­cal level in Iraq will help end the stale­mate at the na­tional level.

Demo­cratic lead­ers, who have re­peat­edly failed to force the ad­min­is­tra­tion to ac­cept a troop-with­drawal timetable, hope the re­port will con­vince Repub­li­cans to break with Mr. Bush.

Se­nate Ma­jor ity L eader Harry Reid of Ne­vada has said he will press for a pull­out af­ter Gen. Pe­traeus’ re­port.

“Af­ter nearly five years, a half-tril­lion dol­lars and over 3,700 Amer­i­can lives, it is long past time for a change of di­rec­tion in Iraq,” Reid spokesman Jim Man­ley said. “That is what the Amer­i­can peo­ple and our troops ex­pect. That is what we will seek in Septem­ber, and hope­fully enough Repub­li­cans will fi­nally join with us to bring about the change in pol­icy that is so des­per­ately needed.”

Ear­lier this month, Mr. Durbin also rec­og­nized mil­i­tary progress but cited the poor per­for­mance of Iraqi forces and the Iraqi gov­ern­ment as rea­sons for U.S. troops to look for the exit.

“More Amer­i­can troops have brought more peace to more parts of Iraq. I think that’s a fact,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch af­ter meet­ing with Gen. Pe­traeus.

Mr. Levin said im­proved ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Iraqi troops could make it eas­ier for U.S. troops to leave, though Iraq re­mained mired in vi­o­lence be­cause Mr. al-Ma­liki’s gov­ern­ment is “too be­holden to re­li­gious and sec­tar­ian lead­ers.”

Mr. Levin said the troop surge suc­ceeded in giv­ing the Iraqi gov­ern­ment “breath­ing room” to bro­ker na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, in­clud­ing deals to dis­arm mili­tias and adopt laws to share oil rev­enue among Iraqi sects.

“They’re not us­ing it,” he said in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters. “And I don’t think they’re ca­pa­ble of us­ing it un­der this lead­er­ship of Ma­liki. And so we have to fig­ure out: Do we then urge them to make a change in their gov­ern­ment or not?”

Mr. Levin said he con­tin­ues to sup­port his plan to start a troop pull­out within four months with most of the forces out by spring, the same plan that died July 18 in the Se­nate when Democrats fell eight votes short of the 60 votes needed to end de­bate on the mea­sure.

Mean­while, U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials are nar­row­ing the range of Iraq strat­egy op­tions and ap­pear to be fo­cus­ing on re­duc­ing the U.S. com­bat role in 2008 while in­creas­ing train­ing of Iraqi forces, a se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cial told the As­so­ci­ated Press Aug. 20 on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

The mil­i­tary has not planned for a sub­stan­tial with­drawal in 2008 but is pre­par­ing pos­si­ble over­tures to Turkey and Jor­dan to let the U.S. use their ter­ri­tory to move some troops and equip­ment out of Iraq, the of­fi­cial said. The main exit would re­main Kuwait, but those op­tions would be eas­ier and more se­cure for forces leav­ing west­ern and north­ern Iraq.

The of­fi­cial em­pha­sized that in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions are on­go­ing and that the dis­cus­sions do not pre­judge de­ci­sions Mr. Bush may make, in­clud­ing on whether or when to re­duce U.S. troops or shift to a larger Iraqi com­bat role.

Jon Ward con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

U.S. sol­diers from the 1-89 Cavalry 10th Moun­tain Di­vi­sion stand guard on pa­trol as their com­man­der met with lo­cal Sunni com­mu­nity lead­ers in south­ern Bagh­dad on Aug. 19 in an ef­fort to ar­range a con­tract to pro­vide a bet­ter wa­ter sup­ply to lo­cal farm­ers.

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